'The Walking Dead's' Norman Reedus: Daryl is a 'total virgin'

norman-reedus-twd-s2.jpgDaryl Dixon knows how to handle a crossbow and has no problem putting an arrow between the eyes of a zombie, but when it comes to romance, he's a bit of a late bloomer.

"I'm trying to play him like he's a total virgin," Norman Reedus tells Zap2it. "Like if someone were to try to kiss him he'd be like, 'Eeeeee.'"

Reedus ("The Boondock Saints") plays Daryl on AMC's smash hit, "The Walking Dead." Although the character wasn't in the original Robert Kirkman comic books, he's become a fan favorite. If we were comparing this show to "Lost," which would be wrong because they are two totally different beasts, he's kind of like the Sawyer of the group: hot, dangerous and -- deep down -- a good guy.

According to Reedus, writers packed more details of Daryl's back story into season 2, which kicks off Oct. 16 with a special 90-minute premiere. His hope for the character is that he's playing him well enough for us to get that he's not a copy of his older brother, Merle ( Michael Rooker) a substance-abusing, racial-epithet spewing all around distasteful guy who we last saw handcuffed to the roof of an Atlanta skyscraper. Or, to be technically correct, we last saw his sawed off hand on that roof; the rest of the guy is M.I.A.

Reedus also gave us some insight into the show's new characters, namely Hershel Greene ( Scott Wilson) whose farm may offer some refuge for our zombie-pocalypse survivors.

"The thing with Hershel and the people on the farm is they've been getting along just fine without us, so the way that their camp is set up there are natural barriers around their farm, so if a walker does get in they see this walker from miles away ... and when they get there, they handle them a little differently."

What exactly does he mean by "differently?" He didn't elaborate, but read the full interview below for some more insight into the coming season.


What should we expect from Daryl in season 2?

Well, you find out more of his back story: why he's so aggressive, why he doesn't trust anybody, his family history. I tried early on not to make him a copy of Merle. You know, Merle has all these racist swears and he takes drugs and all this other stuff and I really wanted to make Daryl more of an Al-Anon member than an Alcoholics Anonymous member. He's a victim of having a big brother like that. It's just the two of them and he has no social skills whatsoever.

He's just sheltered and the thing about Daryl is that he has a different journey than everybody else. He can get along in the woods by himself. He can hunt, he can track, he's not afraid of zombies. He's not running or hiding. But he doesn't really have the social skills to be a part of this group that he would never ever hang out with, so as he's becoming a more valued part of this group -- he's a skilled archer and he can protect them -- but he just doesn't... he's kind of like this guy who needs a hug, but if you try to hug him he'll stab you.

You'll see a lot of him interacting with other people in ways that you wouldn't expect -- forming alliances, going against people -- he's just a very damaged guy spiritually and emotionally and you see a lot of those reasons why.

You get the sense that Daryl is hanging out with more people now than he did before the zombie thing happened.

Oh absolutely. This is the largest group of people he's ever been around. You know, I'm trying to play him like he's a total virgin. Like if someone were to try to kiss him he'd be like, "Eeeeee." He's getting along, he's earning his place in this world with these people. He sees that they're starting to trust him. It's just hard for him to swallow.

Do you see Daryl changing in season 2 to deal with those trust issues?

Yeah, he's trusting them a lot more and it's interesting to watch because he's just like a little kid. He's probably most like Chandler [Riggs, who plays Carl Grimes] than any other character. They're starting to trust him, he's starting to trust them. It's interesting to watch because every character on the show has a different relationship with Daryl and he's not interacting with all of them the same. He picks certain ones to befriend a little more than others.

Can you give us a little preview of Daryl's take on Hershel and the farm?

The thing with Hershel and the people on the farm is they've been getting along just fine without us, so the way that their camp is set up there are natural barriers around their farm, so if a walker does get in they see this walker from miles away and there are natural things that would stop them from getting to their farm and when they get there, they handle them a little differently.

When there's an argument on whether to leave or stay, Daryl's like, "F*** everybody" -- nobody's telling him what to do. If someone tells him to leave he's gonna be like, "Kiss my a**." So there's a lot of confrontation there, but he's also still going along with the group because they're the ones he knows. There's the threat of other people always coming in, there's the threat of these people stabbing us in the back.

He does start to trust people at the farm. Especially Hershel. Hershel's an old country boy like him, so Hershel probably has some father figure abilities seeping through to Daryl.

Since Daryl's the one character without a road map in the comic books, how closely do you work with Robert Kirkman and the writers on developing him?

Well, I keep begging Robert to put me in the comic book and he keeps hinting that he's going to, so that would be awesome. But as far as doing Daryl, I never had a conversation with anybody about it. I had lines and I knew he was Merle's little brother, so I told them straight from the beginning that I'd rather have Daryl have grown up suffering because of Merle's lack of compassion and Merle's racist undertones -- I'd rather be a victim of that as well.

So on the outside I seem a lot like Merle, but on the inside once you peel away some of those onion layers, you realize that that's not really who he wants to be. He's that guy because of circumstance. So going into season 1 I tried to tear up in between throwing squirrels and yelling lies at people and flipping out. I still try to act as if Daryl's lost his big brother, so I try to play him like that, but I never really had that conversation with anybody.

They sort of let me run with it and I'm a fan favorite, so I guess I get to keep doing it.

But going in to season 2, we had the opportunity to sit down with the writers and Glen and Kirkman and everybody and they asked us stuff like, "What does Daryl think of T-Dog? What does he think of Lori?" We came up with all of these scenarios between them, so that gave me the opportunity to mold this character in the direction I wanted to go. And I'm just lucky enough to get scripts that keep that path going and see where it goes.

What has it been like since Frank has left the hands-on aspects of the production?

I've never really done television before, so -- the script's done, so you can change it a little bit, but the arc's done so it isn't like someone came in and wanted to empower himself and say, "Let's re-write the whole goddamn thing," but you know, it's been a blessing. You really feel you're part of the project. You feel like your input on the character matters. I think all of us feel like that, which really helps us enjoy our jobs. We don't always totally get our way, but most of the time they're right on the money. Sometimes it's better to look at a character through the eyes of someone else so you're not just playing the same part over and over again, you know what I mean? It's been a real blessing.

Have you read the comic books?

I didn't know the comic books before to be honest. I'm just now getting into "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- I'm so behind on everything. I started reading them as we were going along, then I just sort of put them down because although Kirkman's graphic novels are really well written, it didn't really serve me any purpose to know what was coming or what was happening because we're not really following the comic book to a T. It's weird for me to look at the comic book now and, say, look at Andrea or look at Rick because I see Andrew [Lincoln] on the show. I just can't follow the comics.

Which zombies from TV or film in the past do you like the best -- if it's even possible to "like" zombies?

The last zombie movie I saw that I really really liked was "Return of the Living Dead" -- I think it had a lot to do with the soundtrack because I like those old punk rock bands like TSOL. I like the campy horror stuff -- "Attack of the Colossal Man," etc. 
Photo/Video credit: AMC
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